Major League Baseball and commissioner Rob Manfred are like the the kid you knew who lived down the street growing up. You know the type, always wanting to come over to play no matter what the game was. Everyone seemed to have a good time, until things didn't go his way. He would get mad, upset and eventually leave in a tirade and vowed never to play with you or the others again.
Such is the way the MLB and Manfred have chosen to conduct themselves over the issue of base path sliding. Because there are still parts of baseball that can induce injury, the league has begun to protect their players, and precious T.V. ratings, by making baseball essentially a non-contact sport.
The league made major headlines in the offseason by instituting a new "bonafide slide" rule that would look to protect players from hard slides from base runners. The rule requires players to maintain a natural sliding position by "not changing his path for the purpose of initiating contact with a fielder."
In essence, base runners are now being called out if they attempt to make a hard slide to break up a double play, avoid a tag or force the fielder to make a tough play. Through less than 10 games into the season, the rule has already had a major effect on several games, including the final outcome of two games, in which the new rule resulted in the final out of the ballgame.
A Game That Has Been Played For Years
Manfred and company fail to realize that by changing what may on paper seem like a small aspect of the game, it still has a large enough impact on the players, who now must change the way they have played the game since they could hit off of a tee.
As a runner on first base, you are taught at a young age that if a ground ball is hit in the infield, your job is to make life for the second baseman or shortstop as difficult as possible. MLB is now forcing players to stop one of the most basic facets of base running, all because a guy broke his leg.
Don't misunderstand, sports leagues and those in leadership positions of those leagues have an obligation to maintain the safety of their players. But it seems a little to strange that the league only changes the rules after a notable player or a player in a big-time moment has been hurt.
Last postseason, the Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Mets were in the heat of game two of the National League Divisional series when a ground ball was hit up the middle by Howie Kendrick with Chase Utley on first base. The Mets' second baseman backhanded the ball to get it to shortstop Ruben Tejada to start the double play. Utley came in from first and completely took out Tejada on the slide, flipping him in the air and forcing a no-throw to first base. The slide ended up breaking Tejada's leg and forced him to miss the remainder of the playoffs.
Now, that is a tough injury and an even tougher way to miss out on playing in the playoffs and ultimately a World Series. But Utley did exactly what he was supposed to do.
He broke up the double play.
There was no ill-will or malicious intent to the slide, he simply made the play he had to in order to give his team another chance at the plate. The slide drew so much attention that the MLB changed the rules that offseason. But it begs the question, if the MLB was so worried about player safety on the base paths, why was there not even a conversation about it before the devastating injury?
Why Wait? Why Procrastinate?
Timing of the rule change is very suspicious. And compared to another infamous injury, it raises a lot of eyebrows. In 2011, San Francisco Giants All-Star catcher Buster Posey was forced to miss the remainder of the season after a head-on collision at home plate in an extra-inning game against the Florida Marlins. He suffered torn ligaments in his left ankle, a broken bone in his lower left leg along with a concussion.
The injury to one of baseball's most adored players forced the discussion of catchers right to block the plate. Three years later, the rule change came that prohibited catchers from blocking the plate. It took less than six months for the MLB to change the sliding rule after the Tejada injury. Why did the league wait three years to change a much more violent aspect of baseball and only waited four months to change a part of the game that really only produces freak accidents?
A lot of comparison has been driven between the National Football League and the MLB. With concussions proving to be a bigger and bigger issue almost everyday for football, commissioner Roger Goodell has been forced to change the way the game is played both on and off the field. The NFL's game changes are warranted, because unlike broken legs or ankles, concussions are on a much more severe level.
MLB also needs to realize that hard slides and possible injuries is nothing new for these guys. Players who grow up playing in the middle infield or backstop know the risks involved. A second baseman knows he has a fraction of a second to get the ball from the shortstop to the first baseman. A catcher knows that up until recent memory, there was a real risk of getting your bell rung on a play at the plate. It's just part of the game.
The rule change in general needs to be viewed for what it really is: a way to put training wheels on a game that many Americans already believe is barely a sport.
At this rate, don't be surprised to see Manfred make an announcement about the removal of the outfield wall.